By Scott North and Janice Podsada
Terrorists do not care about who gets hurt or killed in a terrorist attack. Civilians are fair game. Men, women and children are fair game. Terrorism is meant to create a fear that shakes society to the bone, said Ellis Goldberg, professor of Middle Eastern Politics at the University of Washington.
“The target is society. The target is to destabilize society,” Goldberg said.
“It seems most likely that this has to do with somebody in the Middle East. This seems like something out of the ’60s – an attack on America,” Goldberg said.
Like millions of other people, he was stunned by the scale of destruction terrorists were able to cause in such a short period of time Tuesday. “They would only have a short time to do this before a heightened security situation goes into effect. This was coordinated. It shows a high level of ability to do stuff.”
Terrorists clearly planned to hit these two targets, Goldberg said.
“They picked two of America’s most visible targets – The World Trade Center, which they’ve tried to destroy before – and The Pentagon,”
People worldwide view these two institutions as bastions of American power, Goldberg said. The Trade Towers are symbolic of American capitalism and the Pentagon is symbolic of American military strength, he said
If the intent of Tuesday’s terrorism was to shut down the function of American government, they did not succeed.
“What this shows is a profound misunderstanding of American power,” Goldberg said.
“We’re not like an authoritarian country, where the centers of power are in one place. If you’re coming from an authoritarian background you’re going to think this kind of thing is going to make it impossible for the American government to function. If you took out the Syrian Military Facility, for instance, it would shut down their government. That’s not the case here.”
As for the prospect of further terrorism of this scale in the next few days, the worst is probably over, Goldberg said.
Seattle-based journalist David Neiwert has studied people who advocate violence to advance their political beliefs. He touched on home-grown terror in a 1999 book about far-right extremists called “In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest.”
“Blind hatred is the only thing that possibly can explain it,” Neiwert said of Tuesday’s attacks.
For some reasons, terrorists are able to “turn off that part of your psyche that normally connects you as a human being” to others and look at victims as unwilling sacrifices to a cause, he said.
One of the groups Newert profiled in his book was the Washington State Militia, a Bellingham-based organization with Snohomish County members and whose leaders being were prosecuted in 1996 for a manufacturing explosives and stockpiling illegal firearms. At their trials, tapes were played of militia members discussing plans to attack law officers, government officials and journalists viewed as opposing their cause.
Although it appears as if the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., are acts of international terrorism, the April 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh shows that some Americans, too, are capable of engaging in such behavior, Neiwert said.
McVeigh, executed earlier this year, used a truck bomb to express his outrage over deadly federal raids at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho – incidents that incited many with far-right leanings to talk about violent reprisals. The grim reality of the 168 deaths attributed to McVeigh’s bomb had a chilling effect for many patriot supporters, but it also radicalized some others, Neiwert said.
“Even after Oklahoma City we had, largely unnoticed, a continuing wave of domestic terrorism,” he said. “It bubbled along at a low level, in large part, because the authorities did a very good job” of identifying groups that were planning terrorists acts and making arrests.
Despite Tuesday’s heavy death toll, there “certainly are people, even in this country, that are going to celebrate this event,” he predicted.
Indeed, some domestic extremists almost immediately showed support for the attacks by posting Internet messages, according to Mark Pitcavage, who oversees fact-finding for the Anti Defamation League.
One of the groups, the anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus, had a message on its web site that said “Hallelu-Yahweh! May the war be started! Death to his enemies. May the World Trade Center burn to the ground!”